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Updated: July 16th, 2013 8:57pm
Richard Pitino working fast to install his up-tempo revamp of Gophers

Richard Pitino working fast to install his up-tempo revamp of Gophers

by Nate Sandell
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Part of the intrigue since Richard Pitino took over the Minnesota Gophers men's basketball team has revolved around how his boldly up-tempo style will look and how it will translate to his new team.

The image of guard Austin Hollins dripping in sweat 10 minutes after practice ended Tuesday, while trying to find the breath to field questions from reporters, gave a pretty good indication of what goes into Pitino's system.

"It's definitely up-tempo. It's just fast-paced," Hollins said with a slight grin, while wiping the sweat from his face with his already soaked jersey. "We're definitely going to be in shape ... Everyone is starting to get the hang of it."

The process of gelling into the new culture under Pitino is just beginning. Tuesday's practice was one of the two hours per week the Gophers' coaching staff gets to have contact with the team.

That has resulted in Pitino trying to quickly work to lay a foundation with his squad that features nine returning players from the Tubby Smith regime and four transfers - Daquein McNeil, Deandre Mathieu, Malik Smith and Joey King.

In turn, Pitino has had to pick his spots in terms of installing specific plays and schemes with the start of fall practices still more than three months away.

"I've tried to take it somewhat easy on them, but also kind of instill the culture," Pitino said. "Just because we're only allowed two hours and when the season starts, we're going to practice much, much more than that."

Tuesday marked the first time this summer the Gophers held a full-fledged scrimmage, where the coaching staff sat back and let the players work through it. As Pitino quipped before practice, "I'm sure it will be a disaster but that's the way it is."

The end result wasn't as bad as Pitino joked it would be. The Gophers indeed had the blatantly raw and unpolished look of a team still in the early stages of development, but the ramp up in the speed of play from what onlookers to the program are used was obvious.

Senior guard Malik Smith, who transferred from Florida International to follow Pitino, has become a go-to player this summer for the Gophers largely because his already cemented comfort level playing in Pitino's system.

From Smith's perspective, the transition the Gophers have undergone in the last couple months has gone much smoother than it did at Florida International, where Pitino had a team at a lower talent level than his current one.

"I think we're ahead of schedule. Everybody is picking up the offense really fast," Smith said. "Last year at FIU it took a while. We didn't pick up the offense this fluidly until September."

Pitino wasn't as full of praise as Smith, understanding the immensity of what he still views as needing to be established to revive the program. But Pitino did evoke some level of pleasure in the direction his team seems to be headed.

"The team, I don't have any expectations right now," Pitino said. "It's just too soon. It's too early. We don't have enough subs or anything like that, so it's too difficult to do that."

"I've said from day one, the biggest surprise is just the amount of fan interest that we have here. I didn't realize it. And that's special. That's what makes this job a great job, because apathy can kill a lot of programs. We don't have that here."

Nate Sandell is a contributor to
Email Nate | @nsandell